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Discipline Makeover

More than anything else, Rob and Tracy White want to enjoy their three daughters in the few hours they have together as a family each day. Reality has been another matter.

On a recent weekday afternoon, for instance, Rob sits at the kitchen table trying to talk with a guest over the tumult made by the girls  -- Sydney, 6; Jessica, 5; and Bentley, 18 months. Having just confiscated a snuck-before-dinner Popsicle from her eldest daughter, Tracy now shouts at her:

"Sydney! Stop that!"

Sydney is the little dynamo in the family room, whirling a large doll around by its ankles. On second glance, that's no doll. It's baby sister Bentley. Whoa! Jessica jumps back just in time to miss Bentley's head.

"Sydney, I said stop that!" demands Tracy.

Rob groans. "Individually, they're sweet girls," he says. "Together, it's hell!"

"Syd-NEY!!"

Bentley comes in for a reasonably soft landing, then runs off, her big sisters in pursuit. Tracy sinks into a chair beside her husband.

"We've tried every kind of discipline, from time-outs to spanking," says Rob, "and felt bad about it all."

Rob is a regional manager for a medical-device company. When not on the road, he works from an office in the family's home in Alpharetta, GA. "I love seeing so much of the girls," he says, "but it definitely shortens my fuse."

Rob considers himself the disciplinarian. "When I was growing up, kids didn't get away with this stuff!"

Tracy, a full-time homemaker who worked for an insurance company until Jessica was born, admits to being more indulgent:

"I grew up being yelled at. I don't want to discipline that way."

Tracy begins her day at 6:30 by extracting first-grader Sydney from bed to dress, eat, and catch the school bus. If Rob is home, he pitches in, but much of the time he's on the road.

Next up is Jessica, whose talent for dawdling often results in a last-minute rush to preschool. All the while, Bentley keeps mom hustling. "My life is spent cleaning up after her," says Tracy. "Bentley doesn't want to play with toys  -- she wants to open every bottle under my bathroom sink."

The challenges Rob and Tracy confront when disciplining their kids are similar to those many of us face. That's why we thought they'd be ideal candidates for a "makeover" at the hands of Atlanta-based, child-discipline expert Bob Lancer, who runs parenting and child-discipline workshops and is the author of Bob Lancer's Parenting With Love: Without Anger and Stress.

Contributing editor Jessica Snyder Sachs is a health and science writer based in Georgia.

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